Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, Phil 2:12 ESV
This verse can cause some to think they need to qualify for their salvation through works, through obedience to the law. That God is watching to see if we fully qualify and we need to fear the possibility of punishment or even the loss of our salvation if we do not do things right. This would place the burden of our salvation on our backs and contradict the numerous verses that tell us salvation is by grace through faith and not of works so no man can boast – Eph 2:8-9. Therefore, we know for certain it cannot be telling us we need to qualify for our salvation by works, God has already qualified us by the blood of Christ.
Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Col 1:12 ESV
When we see the word, therefore, in the Bible, like we do in Philippians 2:12, we need to look at the verses before this verse to understand why Philippians 2:12 is therefore.
Starting with Philippians1, we see Paul is speaking of obedience to the faith and not fearing the opposition as he writes to the faithful Saints (Phil1:1) in the Philippian church. The faithful Saints just means they believed the Gospel against all opposition.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. Phil 1:27-28 ESV
We know from several other verses in the Bible that the title of Saint is bestowed on all believers, immediately when they believe the gospel. Paul even called the Corinthians Saints as he addressed their sin issues. The word Saint means sanctified or set apart. Believers are sanctified, set apart, made holy to God, by God, solely through the blood of Christ. The same word used in the Greek in the New Testament for sanctified is used for holy. They mean the same thing. So, when we believe the gospel, we are made holy by the blood of Christ. The Bible also teaches that what God has made holy, no one can ever call unholy – Acts 10:15. Therefore, from just this information in context, we can further see that Phil 2:12 cannot be talking about qualifying to be holy through obedience to the law and works. Paul is calling them Saints as he is addressing a problem in their body, just like he did with the Corinthians. The Philippian's issue was that of fear of persecution for the faith. This is a huge issue in the church today.
We learn in Philippians chapter one that Paul is writing this letter from prison, where he is being held for his faith. He tells us his imprisonment has made some of the Saints bolder in their proclamation of the gospel. At the same time, we can be certain that many of the Saints feared Paul was going to be put to death and Paul talks about this real possibility. They knew it was Paul’s preaching of the gospel that landed him in this position. They also knew that if they preached like Paul, as he wanted them to, the same could happen to them. This would generate fear and trembling like it did for the Apostles when Jesus was crucified, and they went into hiding out of the fear they were next. Can you imagine having this real possibility on your mind when you went out to preach the gospel? In some countries today, imprisonment and death are very possible for preaching the faith.
I have personally shared my faith with thousands of people one on one, and even though I will not be put to death in the United States, I still experience fear and trembling at times when I share my faith with a stranger. Fear is the one thing that keeps believers from sharing their faith. One of my favorite evangelist’s states that when you feel fear in witnessing it is a barometer of the truth you are about to speak or hand out in a gospel tract. Satan comes at all who preach the gospel with this fear at times. Even pastors who preach very comfortably to believers every Sunday in church, very seldom, if ever, witness directly to the lost. They do not do this because of fear. Often it is the fear of rejection, the fear of what man will think. The Bible tells us that the fear of man brings a snare, a trap. When you do face this fear and share your faith on a regular basis, amazing things happen. God will use all who He can count on to step out in faith even when they are trembling with fear. Unfortunately, this is very few Christians, and even though I have shared the gospel with many, I vacillate at times because of fear.
In Philippians 2, Paul talks about Christ’s obedience to the faith unto death on the cross and how we need to by faith hold on to the Word of life. Paul also talks about the possibility of his life being poured out as a drink offering for the benefit of the faith of the Saints.
holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Phi 2:16-17 ESV
I believe it is obvious that this letter was written to address the fears of persecution, imprisonment and quite possibly death in the Saints. With Paul in prison, it sounds like there was some discord among the Philippian Christians just like we see today in our churches. Paul tells them not to be selfish or to grumble or complain among themselves but to be of one mind in the faith. He tells them to think more of others, especially the lost in context, than themselves. When we let the fear of sharing our faith stop us, we are in reality being selfish, caring more for ourselves than the lost. Paul saw this taking place in the church and knew that the only way anyone hears the good news is through the preaching of the gospel. He wanted to encourage the Philippians not to let fear imprison them and make them of no use to the Kingdom. Believers are not supposed to be fearful, but God talks to us in the reality of what we are going through too. Everyone in the Bible who stepped out in faith had to face their fears to do so.
Even Paul, who had a direct encounter with Jesus, had to face fear and trembling at times when he shared the gospel.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Cor 2:1-5 ESV
Paul knew that it was not his wisdom or perfect speech that held God’s power. He knew that when he stepped out in faith, despite his fear and trembling, and boasted only in his weakness and the knowledge of Christ crucified, the power of God rested upon him.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor 12:9 ESV
In the end, God is telling us to work out our salvation by facing our fears and stepping out in faith even when we are trembling. If you have ever stepped out in faith, you have felt the fear and trembling like Paul. What if God asked you to talk to your neighbor about Jesus today? Would you do it, or would you let your fear stop you? Paul is encouraging you to face your fear. He knew that death would, in reality, be the best thing that could happen to him, he would be with Jesus. In our salvation walk, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 1 Peter 3:14 ESV
Many more New Covenant Bible Studies HERE. Jesus poured out His blood for the New Covenant of grace and truth, replacing the Old Covenant law of Moses. Believers are exclusively under the New Covenant, the last will and testament of Jesus that began after the cross.
And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. Luke 22:20